Wednesday night, February 17, 1864 near Charlestown, South Carolina at approximately 8:45 pm an officer aboard the USS Housatonic saw an unidentified object in the water speeding toward his ship. A torpedo from the CSS Hunley immediately struck the Union ship near her magazine, causing an explosion which quickly sank the Housatonic.
In this the first successful torpedoing of a ship in combat, the attacker—the Hunley—and her six man crew also perished. This was the third and final sinking of the Hunley which had capsized twice before during training exercises.
The vulnerability of the Southern nation was imminently clear to both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis by mid-February 1864. Sherman’s expedition to Meridian, Mississippi was busily destroying Confederate property within that state.
Originally fearing that Sherman intended to march to Mobile, Alabama to resupply his invading troops from the Gulf of Mexico, Jefferson Davis by Monday, February 15, 1864 believed Sherman might instead march toward Montgomery, Alabama, that state’s capital.
On Sunday, February 14, 1864 William Tecumseh Sherman’s forces entered Meridian, Mississippi after marching from Vicksburg, with little opposition from General Leonidas Polk’s Confederate cavalry. For six days Union troops stayed in Meridian, destroying railroads, numerous other infrastructure, and supplies in the area.
Jefferson Davis by mid-1864 clearly despaired over the invasion of his nation by Union forces; he particularly was concerned about William Tecumseh Sherman’s march through his own state of Mississippi.
On Thursday, February 11, 1864 Davis informed General Joseph Johnston that Sherman’s advance through Mississippi “should be met before he reaches the Gulf and establishes a base to which supplies and reinforcements may be sent by sea.”
On Wednesday, February 10, 1864 the Confederate raider Florida left Brest, France after being birthed at a French government dock since August 1863 and successfully eluded the U.S.S. Kearsarge which had been watching for her.
The Florida, the first commerce raider purchased from English shipbuilders in 1862 and originally known as the Oreto, eventually would capture thirty-seven ships of the United States before being captured by the U.S. Navy while in the neutral port of Bahia, Brazil in October 1864.
On Tuesday, February 9, 1864, 109 federal officers held in Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia escaped after 17 days of laboriously tunneling their way out of prison.
Included among the escapees was Union General A.D. Streight, who led a successful cavalry raid from Alabama into Tennessee in April and May of 1863 but had been captured. So effective was the escape, the Confederate guards did not realize there was a problem until after the morning roll call of prisoners.
The long winter of late 1863 and early 1864 was coming to an end, as witnessed by Sherman’s advance through Mississippi.
In Virginia, that theatre of war also was witnessing increased military activity. A three day, Union cavalry expedition from Yorktown toward Richmond involved skirmishing at Bottom’s Ridge and near Baltimore Store. The raid, the brainchild of Union General Benjamin Butler, was designed to have Union forces enter Richmond and release Union prisoners.
The long feared march through Mississippi by Union forces under General William Sherman began in early February 1864. As Sherman’s forces advanced from Vicksburg through the old battlefields of 1863, Confederate forces under General Leonidas Polk gave grounds before the superior Union force.
By Friday, February 5, 1864 Union forces entered Jackson, the state capital; destroyed by Sherman’s forces in May 1863, Jackson was no longer militarily important and was once again abandoned after skirmishing by Confederate cavalry.
On Wednesday, February 3, 1864 President Jefferson Davis in a letter addressed to the Confederate Congress acknowledged that “discontent, disaffection, and disloyalty” were too often manifested by Confederate citizens who, in Davis’ words, “have enjoyed quiet and safety at home.”
Recommending that the Congress consider suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus as a “sharp remedy” to combat the evils of spying, desertion, consorting with the enemy, and disloyal activities, Davis clearly was concerned about the deteriorating morale of the Southern people.
Confederate General George Pickett’s failed assault on New Berne, North Carolina ended with little glory, and--considering Pickett’s execution of twenty-two deserters captured from the Second North Carolina Union Volunteers— with much controversy.